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How oncologists and their patients with advanced cancer communicate about health-related quality of life.

Rodriguez KL, Bayliss N, Alexander SC, Jeffreys AS, Olsen MK, Pollak KI, Kennifer SL, Tulsky JA, Arnold RM. How oncologists and their patients with advanced cancer communicate about health-related quality of life. Psycho-oncology. 2010 May 1; 19(5):490-9.

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OBJECTIVE: To describe the content and frequency of communication about health-related quality of life (HRQOL) during outpatient encounters between oncologists and their patients with advanced cancer. METHODS: We coded for HRQOL talk in a subset of audio-recorded conversations (each previously found to contain prognostic talk by the oncologist) from the Study of Communication in Oncologist-Patient Encounters Trial, a randomized controlled trial conducted from 2003 to 2008 in two large US academic medical centers and one Veterans Affairs Medical Center. RESULTS: Seventy-three encounters involved 70 patients and 37 oncologists. Patients were more likely to be female (53%), White (86%), married (78%), and possessing some college education (62%). Most oncologists were male (78%) and White (78%). Mean ages were 59 years for patients and 44 years for oncologists. Every encounter included some talk about HRQOL and HRQOL discussions made up, on average, 25% of the visit time. HRQOL segments described symptoms (50%), general HRQOL (27%), and the following concerns: physical (27%), functional (22%), psychological (9%), social (7%), spiritual (1%), and other (28%). Topics included treatment (56%), disease (14%), and testing (3%), and conversations focused on past (44%), present (68%), and future HRQOL (59%). CONCLUSIONS: HRQOL discussions between oncologists and patients are common, but the emphasis is often on treatment (e.g. side effects) and symptoms (e.g. pain) even in patients with advanced disease. Given the often intense emotional experience of patients with advanced cancer, oncologists may need to pay more attention to psychological, social, and spiritual HRQOL concerns.

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